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This is the single-news section of the news "Offroad & Motorsports". To see all news please use the link under the article or navigate with the left main-navigation.

Dakar 2009: Team Dessoude´s Hopes go up in smoke.

Just 5 km from the finish line of the day’s special stage, whilst lying in 11th position on this unforgiving stage, the Proto 05 driven by Christian Lavieille and Jean-Paul Forthomme suddenly caught fire. In less than two minutes, the vehicle was turned into a brazier. Luckily, the crew was able to get out uninjured, but their disappointment is immense. This new blow has destroyed months of work and development, and morale is low. In the meantime, the two T2 category Nissan Pathfinder cars of Jean-Pierre Strugo and Frédéric Chavigny are still out on the track.

A trying special stage was in store for the competitors today, taking them from Neuquen to San Rafael in the Province of La Pampa, a true, ruthless Dakar stage. The first decisive turning for the race leaders. The sand made its first appearance, with a 20 km chain of sand dunes to cross. Long off-road sections, as well as technical sections, and some ‘rios’ - the local equivalent of the wadi - to drive along, was the programme which awaited the remaining competitors. The factory cars suffered, which left little hope for an easy passage for the amateurs, many of whom will have to spend a night out in the dunes.

Everything started well for the Proto 05. Starting out on the pace, Christian Lavieille knew that the day would be difficult. But when the finish line was just 5 km away, everything changed dramatically « There were two more ridges of sand dunes to cross, through the many spectators who had come to watch. Going through the second dunes, we began to smell smoke in the cockpit, and we saw spectators making big gestures at us, telling us we should stop. I braked, and as soon as I stopped, the car immediately caught fire. We have no idea what caused this sudden fire, and most probably we never will.

Did extremely dry grass get caught up under the car and catch fire? Oil on the hot exhaust? We just don’t have the answer. What is certain is that there was no warning in the cockpit. In under 30 seconds, everything just went up in smoke. It’s a real blow, as it is becoming more and more difficult to find the budget to compete, and I was counting on a good result in this Dakar and now - nothing. We had been driving carefully since the start, knowing that some stages like the one today would be terrible. We had a good hand to play, finishing 11th today. Everything has been destroyed. I am also thinking of André Dessoude, who trusted us and who has suffered a great loss today, losing his vehicle."

Alongside Christian, Jean-Paul Forthomme had quite a fright. "I am pleased to be in one piece this evening. There was no time to be scared. I quickly looked to make sure that Christian had got out, and threw myself out of the cockpit which had started to burn. I tried to get my bag, but as the flames were coming from the back, and the strong wind was blowing them forward, a sheet of flames prevented me. So my passport and my wallet have gone, but it’s more important to be alive. The fire took place in just fractions of a second. So many things go through your mind in times like that."

André Dessoude was very much affected by what happened today, and especially disappointed: "I am very disappointed that we have to retire when we were in a fine position to have a good race. Christian had driven beautifully since the start, and the car was working perfectly. Now, everything has collapsed in seconds, and moreover we have lost the vehicle. This has been a real blow, which we now have to learn to live with. The only positive aspect is that Christian and Jean-Paul are safe, and that is the main thing. We still have two cars in the race, which we have to get to the end of the rally."

At the time of writing, Jean-Pierre Strugo and Frédéric Chavigny are still out on the track, and will doubtlessly arrive very late.

2009/01/08 | 12:24 CET | Editor: MR/HS/L.Arpizou

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